Caramelized Onion Jam with Honey and Herbs
Caramelized onions make life better. They sweeten and enrich recipes with their earthy charm, adding a layer of complexity into an already delicious dish, or spinning it in a completely different direction. There is also something to be said for the zen and the art of caramelized onions after a particularly heinous day. Being still in front of a Dutch oven for an hour and a half, while onions slowly turn golden and sweet, is a perfect contemplative time-out from stress and speed. However, sometimes you just don’t have ninety minutes to spend tending onions every time you feel the yen, and that’s where this recipe comes in. Do it once, do it in bulk, and reap the rewards for months to come.
Mind you, I wouldn’t really consider this to be “in bulk”, and perhaps it is not “months to come” as much as “the next few weeks”. This recipe will yield a scant three (3!) little half pint jars of caramelized onion jam, which brings “small batch canning” to a whole new level.
This recipe is adapted from the delectable looking Vidalia Onion & Maple Conserve recipe in the 2011 special interest publication of Canning by Better Homes & Gardens, which was passed around between friends all summer like a dirty pair of pants. As soon as I saw maple and onion, my cooking-muscle started to itch, and I couldn’t help thinking that when I made it, I would add thyme for some earthiness and sherry vinegar to balance out the sweetness. Then I looked at the recipe, which called for…thyme and sherry vinegar. Clearly this was meant to be. However, because I can’t leave well enough alone, I did three versions of the onion conserve. For the first, I made the BHG maple onion conserve. To the second, I split the maple with honey and substituted balsamic vinegar, and for the third and final I used just honey and added fine herbs. They were all delicious, but this version was far and above my favorite.
Caramelized Onion Jam with Honey and Herbs
Adapted from Better Homes & Gardens
Makes 3 half pints
- 3 lb onion *
- 1/4 cup butter
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 cup liquid honey
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 1 tsp freshly ground pepper
- 2 tbsp fresh thyme
- 2 tsp fresh rosemary
- 1 tsp fresh tarragon
- 1/4 cup sherry vinegar
* Sweet onions, like Vidalia or Walla Walla, are delicious when caramelized. However, with the honey sweetness in this recipe, any regular yellow cooking onion will be fine.
Peel the onion and coarsely dice into moderately large chunks.
Heat the butter and oil in a large Dutch oven set over low heat. If you don’t have a large Dutch oven, an over sized saucepan with a heavy bottom will do, or a heavy pot. You want something broad as opposed to tall to increase the surface area and speed caramelization.
With the heat on as low as possible, cover the onions and let them cook down slowly for about 1.5 hours, stirring only intermittently to make sure that they don’t burn. The onions will be richly golden, very tender and sweet.
Stir in the honey, salt and pepper, turning the heat up to medium high. Mince the thyme and rosemary and stir them in as well. Boil, stirring regularly, until most of the liquid has been absorbed. To test this, run your spoon along the bottom of the pan. If it creates a clear stripe and the onions delay for a few seconds before slowly seeping forward, it is ready.
Take the onions off the heat and stir in the sherry vinegar and minced tarragon. Taste, and adjust seasoning if necessary.
The onion jam can be served as is, refrigerated for up to 3 weeks, or frozen for several months. However, because this is canning season and I’ll stick my cat in a jar if he stays still too long, I canned the onions for preservation with a longer shelf life. To do this, pack the onion jam into clean, sterilized half pint jars leaving 1/4″ head space. Clean the rims well and then cover with fresh lids and screw on ring caps. Process the jars in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes and then set aside to cool. As always, if the lids don’t seal (pop, press down concave, etc), refrigerate the jars and use for immediate consumption.
When you have sweet caramelized onion jam on hand, an impressive gourmet appetizer is never more than a few minutes away. Spread over a buttery pastry and dotted with oven dried tomatoes and mild black olives, you have a version of the French pissaladière. Spread on crostini it can be topped with barbecue duck and a single chive, or mixed with mayonnaise and horseradish below a wee slice of rare roast beef. You can stir a few tablespoons into your onion dip to bring it to the next level, stir a dollop into your beef stew for sweetness and complexity, or pack it into a tart as is and serve it with a tiny glass of tawny port and a wedge of blue cheese on the side.
My favorite use, however, is to spread the onion jam on puff pastry, top it with a medallion of tangy goat cheese and a few thin ribbons of pickled chili pepper. Baked in the oven for 20 minutes and served piping hot, these are a crowd pleasing appetizer that everyone goes back to for seconds.
Life is sweet, or at least as sweet as caramelized onions and another bout of home canning. For now, that’s good enough for me.